Family and fans react to Dale Earnhardt Jr's last ride

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - This weekend in Florida will mark the final NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series race for one of the sport's all-time most popular drivers.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., will wheel his Chevrolet for the final time in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The 14-time Cup Series Most Popular Driver will retire from full-time racing after this weekend.

"Kind of a high and a low for us because it brings back a lot of memories of our dad and racing and the fact that he didn't get to retire, he died young, and of course Dale didn't get to retire, he died young," said Cathy Earnhardt Watkins, the sister of Dale Earnhardt and Aunt of Dale Jr., "So it's very gratifying to see Dale Jr. get to make his decision about his career and retiring."

As the son of the late Dale Earnhardt, Junior first raced in the NASCAR Cup scene in 1999 for a five races before taking the reigns of the now-legendary No. 8 car full-time in 2000. From his first career win at Texas in April of his rookie season, to the tear-jerking return and victory at Daytona in 2001 after his father's death, to multiple Daytona 500 triumphs and a record four-straight wins at Talladega, Dale Jr. has left a lasting impact on the entire sports community.

"He's going to be missed," said Ed Yancey.  Yancey runs Victory Lane Collectibles in Salisbury.  It's a store what features a huge selection of NASCAR die-cast cars and merchandise.

Yancey says that Earnhardt, Jr., has been the most popular driver with fans, and with customers in his store.

"He outsells the next three drivers combined," Yancey said.  "He's always been good with the fans and he's a good spokesman for NASCAR."

Next year Earnhardt, Jr., plans to move to the broadcast booth.

While many sports fans associate Dale Jr. with Budweiser, he has not driven the red car since 2007 after he made the move to his current and final team, Hendrick Motorsports. Earnhardt has spent the better half of the past decade in the No. 88 Chevrolet boasting a variety of sponsors like Nationwide to Mountain Dew and AMP Energy. Axalta, a major sponsor of both Junior and Hendrick Motorsports will also pay tribute to the No. 8 Budweiser paint scheme on Sunday in Miami.

Over the course of his 19-year career, Dale Jr. has 26 Cup wins (including two Daytona 500 wins), 260 top-10 finishes, 15 poles and two XFINITY Series championships. While he has yet to win this season, a trip to Victory Lane at Homestead on Sunday would certainly be a fitting end to the career of the arguably the most beloved driver in NASCAR history.

"My daddy built a legacy, Dale built a dynasty, and Dale Jr. is going to carry them bot on for many years whether he's racing or not," Watkins added.

CBS Sports contributed to this article

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